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Bobby Conn/The Sex Hunter (live at the Shim Sham Club)

New Orleans
12 November 2000

The Sex HunterAgain, a third way around the world and this time for Bobby Conn. This is the Shim Sham Club, 615 Toulouse Street. A round of jokes on that one and 19,000 Heart Association convention goers available to egg it on (“Why are the French Navy’s bases on the Mediterranean like their sailor’s trousers? They are both Toulon and Toulouse…”). Other venues imitate this decor: shutters on real windows, glitter gold stage curtains, lesbian chic bathroom graffitti and the odd cobweb strung out over dark and ancient mirrors. The Amerikan accents are assaulting and this is a bit of Amerika with its own language. “Simmer down” means something here. No matter how hard I search the young faces for familiarity, I remember I am a stranger here.

To warm up the 30 odd audience is New Orleans (not so) boy band The Sex Hunter. Not too different to bands I was seeing 15+ years ago: 7 Seconds, DRI, The Circle Jerks – they just dress (a bit) different now. A definite and welcome lean on Birthday Party (sound, not couture) from time to time and plenty of dredging up angst against this slack and lax crowd, they are sweet boys really. However, their loudness cannot really wake me or anyone else here. New Orleans seems to be in hibernation for the winter.

Bobby Conn in mittsWhen Bobby Conn comes to play, there are a few more people, and a couple of irritating hecklers, but mostly the ambience of the audience is one of (s)lack, disinterested and uninformed of what genius to which they witness. Bobby gives great effort to holding together a stage show of interest, arriving with plush furry mitts and a sojourn into the audience to do some personal greetings. I wonder if he should not smack a few people with his big fluffy hands instead of patting their empty heads. Soon enough, almost, he goes to singing and then nothing else really matters much. I don’t know that I have ever heard a voice this good. Surely there are crooners who could rival him throughout history, but only a handful, even if you look way back. Mr. Conn’s voice is rich and smooth and transmits low to high, loud to soft, ranging levels without hesitation. He is a small-statured man, strangely looking like a little boy and an old man at once, and the voice that he issues and commands seems to be so much more the vessel of his being than his body or his antics.

Bobby Conn and Monica BouBouSound travels well in this dilapidated and sinking venue, until I feel that Bobby Conn, his voice, his-self, is wrapped right around my head. I really do not have the words to express my wonder at how this man sings so well. Nevermind that his lyrics are insightful and nearly preternatural in their understanding of the human condition; nevermind that his interpretations of other people’s lyrics are stretched out into infinite resource of influences. It is a sidebar of enjoyment that he is accompanied by musicians of great talent and personality in their own right. Even when the band become weary of this disappointing audience and slump into a bored and get it over with finish, it is Bobby Conn’s voice, the amazing quality of his delivery of sound that makes the impact, which is unfailing to the bitter end. His songs are anthems that echo to me weeks later.

I think I expected much less, that perhaps the recordings of his voice were enhanced and specialized. Right here live and real and raw and un-effected, Bobby Conn sings and speaks, and it is nearly miraculous how pure is the sound. Let the inhabitants of my beloved Crescent City roll on undisturbed in their winter torpor – God knows they must be tired after their nine months battle with the sickly heat and night living of the rest of the year. I am on my way back to cold London, warmed and glowy, with Bobby Conn’s voice in my head.

-Lilly Novak-

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